The Problem of the Transcendentalist Movement in American History



Throughout the writings of Hawthorne, you can see how he is considered a Transcendental Pessimist. When he is writing he likes to focus on the dark side of human nature. Hawthorne still agrees with the ideals of Transcendentalism but his writing lacks the positive outlook on the human nature. Emerson is a transcendentalist and writes of the optimism seen in nature. 

Emerson writes in his Self-Reliance excerpts, “truth is handsomer than the affection of love.” This contracts Hawthorne’s writing of The Scarlet Letter. In Hawthorne’s writing Hester keeps the secret with Dimmesdale for seven years. She has to wear this letter on her that everyone in the town sees as a sin and therefore looks down on her. She goes through this punishment and yet never reveals that Dimmesdale is the father of the child. She protects him and puts a shame on her name and loses respect in the town. She could take Dimmesdale down with her, they could be together and be looked down on together but this would risk everything Dimmesdale has worked for. He would lose his job and who knows what the Puritans would do to him, his life would be at risk. Hawthorne when writing this shows that the affection of love is greater than the truth. Hester pushes herself through tough times instead of telling the truth to show her affection. Hawthorne disagrees with this view that Emerson makes and turns it into human nature in a negative way. 

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester is seen as a sinner. She has committed adultery and the Puritans do not believe in such an act. Hester even admits to not loving Chillingworth, “Thou knowest I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any”. Since Hawthorne is a pessimistic he still believes that the ideals of transcendentalism are good. In transcendentalism, Emerson believes that, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.” (self reliance) He is saying that Hester has to trust her ways and go with what her heart tells her, not the man that she does not love. Hawthorne shows this ideal by having Hester continue loving Dimmesdale over the seven year period in the book. 

Hawthorne also shows the ideal of humans and people thinking on their own. Emerson in the American Scholar excerpt states, “the parrot of other men's thinking,” this means Emerson views people as thinkers who should not repeat the thoughts of others or get lost in what others say to you. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne shows over time that humans are not capable of this. Dimmesdale for example is a character that does not want to let others down around him and says if he confesses, he can not do good work. You can see his guilt taking over him, “It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him!” Dimmesdale sees himself taken over by this guilt and unable to expose himself to the public when in reality if he followed what Emerson states, he would have nothing to worry about. 

Hawthorne writes many of the values that Emerson believes in but twists it in a way that shows humans can not obtain a positive outlook on most things in the human nature. He writes The Scarlet Letter and shows that humans get inside of their heads, leading them to not follow Emerson’s ways or they put their emotions before logic. Hawthorne and Emerson both share values that can be seen throughout their writings, Hawthorne is seen has having a more negative view than others, leading him to be a pessimist on the transcendentalism views.